The Big Sick: How to cope with high levels of sick leave

Posted by | March 15, 2022 | Employers, Market updates, Retention

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By Julia Capon

The “Big Sick”,  just like the “Great resignation” is now among us here in New Zealand. For any of those who are fans of the The Big Sick the rom-com movie (Rhiannon on our team assure me it is a goodie!) our version is definitely not about stand up comedy,  unrequited love, and family feuds.

This version sees the main protagonist, Covid (and covid scares),  knocking many teams in the for-purpose world out of action for varying lengths of time – including our own here at Do Good Jobs. It’s a challenging time right now for many – and like any good dramas – this particular baddie, may be around for a few seasons.

We thought now was a great time to put together our top tips on how to deal with high levels of sick leave in your organisation – now and for the future – so that while your team may be reduced, your organisation can keep on making an impact!

Here are our top tips:

#1. Focus on what makes the most impact for the least effort.

One of my favourite questions when things start to feel overwhelming is to pause just long enough to ask: “what is the ONE thing our organisation can do, such that by doing it everything else is easier or unnecessary?”. This is inspired by The One Thing book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. Find that ONE thing that will help move your cause towards its vision to create the impact you need, and forget the rest for now.  A few years ago I also made this video about how to use the Impact Priority Matrix to look at your to-do list in a whole new way – and it’s never more relevant than right now! Watch this here.

#2. When you figure out what ONE thing needs to be DONE, see what else can be deleted, decreased or delegated.

What can wait, what can be delegated to someone else. Can that weekly newsletter be deleted this week, can the accounts reconciling wait until next month, can your meeting length be cut in half to help out those who are home with sick kids (you might also find truth in Parkinson’s Law – that work expands to fill the time allocated to it – so maybe that 1-hour team catch up only really needs 30 minutes – or even 15?).

#3. Get everyone on your team to document one Standard Operating Procedure only they know how to do, RIGHT NOW.

If you don’t have any systems documented at your organisation, start with getting your team to record a specific activity only they currently know how to perform the next time they do it. And I don’t mean in a long-winded word document. If it’s computer-based, use a screen recording tool – I highly recommend If it’s a physical activity that doesn’t use a computer, grab your phone camera and capture the specific process from start to finish and upload it and share it with your team. Just getting a few of these core tasks recorded and shared will ease the strain if anyone is out of action.

This isn’t just about during covid, this is about the long term success of your team –  ensuring your key processes are documented, because heck, your key personnel might also want to take a holiday some time?! Learning how to capture processes and delegate to others is a key skill I teach in Delegate for Impact – join the waitlist to hear about our next workshop on this in May.

#4. Make ‘Cross Train’ your new mantra! 

Unfortunately, Covid isn’t going away overnight, and while the current wave will eventually peak, Covid related sick leave and isolation leave is here for the foreseeable future. If you haven’t invested in cross-training in your team, get that skill sharing going. This is especially important for in-person tasks where a Loom video (see point above) won’t do the trick.

#5. Get your passwords sorted

If you or your team are out of action, it can be good to hand the reins over for key logins. I highly recommend setting up a password manager with key logins that can be shared with your team (a good password management system means you can revoke access at any point, and a user will never even see the actual password, it will be auto filled in for them). You can learn more about my fave password manager in my free download: Five tech tools to do good, easier.

#6. Record all your meetings

You’ve probably pivoted to Zoom anyway so it’s just the click of a button! That way absent staff can easily catch up when they return to work without having to have 10 conversations. If you’re still in-person, nominate one teammate per meeting to take notes in a document that everyone has access to.

#7. Adjust your KPIs and communicate

Less hands-on deck may make it impossible to meet core KPIs. Communicate with your board and leadership team to set expectations, and possibly revise your near term KPIs. If you have tight funding deadlines or reports due, reach out to your funders and see if they will be willing to extend the deadlines due to covid related illnesses – you won’t know until you ask! 

#8. Make sure you know the key tasks everyone needs to be doing in the coming week.

That way you will know where the slack needs to be picked up if there is anything urgent or time-bound. This could either be on a simple document where you list your key tasks (or even a whiteboard) over the coming weeks, or could be captured on a project management tool. A task or project management tool is a tool that can help set your team up for success now, and in the future. Again, I outline a  project management tool we use in our Five tech tools to do good, easier download.

#9. Harness the power of your volunteers.

The for-purpose sector is unique in the fact that volunteers do a large part of the mahi, and can often be mobilized in tough times. Can your volunteers help you with some of the shortfall? Brainstorm the skills you need and put the word out there…

And if you can’t access volunteers, get yourself a recruiter who understands the for-purpose world and consider temporary staffing.

Even organisations who haven’t historically used external recruitment are finding them to be an essential resource in the pandemic era. A good recruiter can help you plug the gaps caused by sick leave with temporary staff.

#10. Most importantly, support your team.

Right now your team might need time to rest and recuperate, or time to care for their families. Support them as best as you can. It matters. In a very labour short market, you need to be on top form, because chances are your super-star employees are already receiving other job offers. 2022 is all about the retaining staff. Keeping your team happy now will give you the best shot at keeping the people who are helping you achieve your mission and who keep the wheels turning in the For-Purpose world.


I strongly believe building your organisation’s systems to be stronger now during the Big Sick, will also help you thrive in the future. 

Anything other tips you’d add? Please leave us your comments and let’s see how we can help others in the do-good world who are facing the “Big Sick”. 


*Check out the Government’s financial leave support packages*

If needed the government’s Covid-19 leave support scheme is there to help your organisation through this tough spot. See if your organisation is eligible for financial support at



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